I love a good leadership talk. At their best, they are inspiring and uplifting. They encourage me at my current level of leadership and challenge me to rise higher. But often the leadership messages we hear and share tell us how to be stronger, how to do better, how to solve problems. These are all good things, but they sometimes neglect an important facet of leadership. As leaders, we like to lead with our strengths. But I believe we need to get comfortable with leaning into our weaknesses. If we are going to go the distance as leaders, we are going to have to lead with vulnerability, humility, and honesty.
Recently, I read a book called The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry by Mandy Smith. This book has opened my eyes to the importance of not just being strong but knowing it’s okay to be weak. Paul teaches this principle in his letter to the Corinthian church: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul doesn’t portray himself as a perfectly capable leader with no issues. Rather, he is honest about his weaknesses and acknowledges that his strength doesn’t come from himself. The more we grow in this revelation as leaders, the more we will learn to rely on God’s grace in our everyday lives and leadership. The less we live in light of this truth, the more we will be tempted to operate under the false pretense that every success and failure weighs on us.
Mandy Smith says it so beautifully: “We have been given an impossible task as imperfect beings representing a perfect God. The weight and the pressure sometimes paralyze us. We feel like so much is expected of us and we start trying to do it all and when we realize we can’t, we just do nothing.” God doesn’t need us to know everything, to have it all together, to be perfect. What he needs is a leader who trusts him fully and completely. If you recognize some room for growth in this area of your leadership—I know I do—here are two quick thoughts on the leader God needs.
1. God Needs A Weak Leader
Have you ever been in a situation where you were so weak that you were fully reliant on someone else to take care of you? I’ve been there. It wasn’t comfortable, but it taught me a lot about leadership. If you’ve experienced a situation like that, you know that it wasn’t strength that brought you to that place. It was weakness. Well, as counterintuitive as it may sound, this is the leader God needs. He doesn’t need a strong leader. He’s looking for a leader who is not afraid to expose her weakness. I know it sounds crazy and, naturally speaking, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if being weak means I will rely on Christ more, then that’s good with me. I choose to embrace my weakness so I can experience God’s strength. Again, Mandy Smith expresses it with a powerful simplicity: “If feeling our own weakness makes us rely on God, and if the best ministry grows from reliance on him, then our weakness is a ministry resource.” Some of my best moments as a leader have happened when I came to the end of my ability and had no other choice but to lean on God’s grace. As I continue to grow in my leadership, that’s the place I hope to find myself in more and more.
2. God Needs An Empty Leader
God needs a weak leader, and God needs an empty leader. Why? Because the less of us we bring to the table, the more of him we can bring into the equation. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the woman with the empty jars. In 2 Kings, Elisha tells the unnamed woman,
“‘Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’ She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’ But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’” 2 Kings 4:3-7
I love the object lesson this story provides. The woman doesn’t have much. It may even seem she has nothing. What, after all, is the worth of a handful of empty jars? The empty jars are valuable because they have plenty of space to be filled. To say that God needs an empty leader is not to say that he requires nothing of us. On the contrary, God requires all we have. What we have may not seem important. It may not seem significant. But if we will bring it to God, he will fill the empty space as only he can. And only when the jars run out will the oil stop flowing.
This is not an excuse to be lazy, to throw up our hands and exclaim, “God will work it out.” God will do what we can’t do, not what we won’t do. He has called us to do everything within our power, and nothing more. This is not an either/or message—either our work or God’s grace. It’s a both/and revelation. We give everything we have, then trust God to fill in every gap. We offer every ounce of our imperfect effort, then lean on his perfect wisdom and rest in his all-sufficient strength. These are the leaders God desires and the leaders people need. People need leaders who don't know everything but who trust God in everything, leaders who are honest with their flaws and vulnerable with their weaknesses.
I’ll leave you with one last quote from Mandy Smith: “When one person is willing to step into vulnerability, it disrupts forever the cycle that traps us, giving us permission to share our fears, creating a space for others to be human and for God to be God.” The moment we step into vulnerability is the moment we help other people to step out as well. When we let our walls down and reveal our imperfections, we free people from the lie that they need to be perfect in order to be used by God. If we are going to create space for people to be their flawed human selves, we are going to have to put our own humanity on display. That’s the kind of leader God can work with.